Nina F. Schor’s father was a scientist and engineer, while her mother was a musician and actress. This juxtaposition of science and art would impact the young Nina’s character, and she would spend her life at the interface between the two. A native of Bayside, Queens, Nina pursued her early education in the New York City Public School system. Her interests in science, music, and creative writing emerged in elementary school and fueled her curricular and extracurricular pursuits through her years at Benjamin N. Cardozo High School. It was in this high school that the talented young pianist had her first laboratory experience and learned how exciting and inspirational it could be to pursue scientific truths with friends and colleagues.
After graduating from high school at age 16, Schor headed to Yale, where, still drawn to science and the arts, she studied biochemistry and music theory. At Yale, Nina found herself at home in a laboratory of enzymology and protein chemistry – subjects to which she was drawn because of their intriguing scientific aspects and because of the elegant imagery created by the binding of a protein to its substrate. Dr. Schor graduated cum laude from Yale University with a B.S. degree in Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry and as a Scholar of the House in Chemistry Research in 1975.
She next headed back to the state of New York, where she enrolled in an MD-PhD program. This time, her art was medicine, and her science was medical biochemistry. It was during medical school that Schor treated a young boy who was suffering from neuroblastoma, a form of cancer that she had never before encountered. The child’s tumor compressed his spinal cord, paralyzing his legs and leaving him unable to control his bladder or bowel. Unhappy with the inadequate treatments available for this form of cancer, Schor vowed to pursue this disease. Neuroblastoma would later become the principal topic of her research. She received her PhD in 1980 from Rockefeller University after working in the laboratory of Dr. Anthony Cerami, and she received her MD in 1981 from Cornell University Medical College.
Dr. Schor pursued residency training in pediatrics at Boston Children’s Hospital (1981-1983) under Dr. Mary Ellen Avery and child neurology at the Longwood Area-Harvard Neurology Program (1983-1986) under Dr. Charles Barlow. During residency, she also pursued a postdoctoral fellowship, funded by the Cancer Research Foundation of America, in the laboratory of Dr. Manfred Karnofsky at Harvard. There, she began her studies of neuroblastoma, aimed at understanding the neurobiology of this tumor and designing and testing novel strategies in preclinical models for its treatment.
Upon completion of her child neurology residency training, Dr. Schor moved to the University of Pittsburgh where, over the next 20 years, she rose through the academic and administrative ranks to ultimately become the Carol Ann Craumer Professor of Pediatric Research, Chief of the Division of Child Neurology in the Department of Pediatrics, and Associate Dean for Medical Student Research at the medical school. Dr. Schor also served as Chair of the Institutional Review Board and Animal Care and Use Committee.
At the University of Pittsburgh, Dr. Schor initiated her own research program regarding the mechanisms of neuroblastoma’s chemotherapy resistance and the role of neurotrophin receptors in neuro- oncologic and neurodegenerative disease. She has pursued these lines of research ever since, and with great success. Since 1988, her research program has been continuously funded by granting agencies, including the NIH, American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, Elsa U. Pardee Foundation, and Crosby’s Fund for Pediatric Cancer Research.
As part of her research strategy, Dr. Schor attempts to juxtapose one body of knowledge with another in order to shed new light on disease biology. In particular, she asked how knowledge in child neurology and developmental neuroscience could be brought to bear in a non-child neurology field, like neuroblastoma. As an example of this strategy, she examined the role of NGF (nerve growth factor) receptors, which play a critical role in brain growth and development, in neuroblastoma. She found that NGF receptors are a double-edged sword for neuroblastoma, as their activation can be pro-survival or pro-apoptotic, depending on their concentration at the cellular surface.
In 2006, Dr. Schor left the University of Pittsburgh to become the William H. Eilinger Chair of the Department of Pediatrics, and Pediatrician-in-Chief at the University of Rochester. As Chair of the Pediatrics Department, she played a major role in the design of and fund-raising for the new Golisano Children’s Hospital, which opened in 2015. In addition, she implemented an ambitious faculty development program, with faculty numbers growing from 110 to 170 under her tenure.
Throughout her career as a child neurologist, Dr. Schor has been a vital member of the Child Neurology Society, as she has made innumerable contributions and filled key leadership positions. For the CNS, she has served as Secretary/Treasurer and President, as Councilor from the East, and has served as a reviewer for the Philip R. Dodge Young Investigator and Child Neurology Foundation Research Awards. In addition, she has been a contributing member of numerous CNS committees and has frequently enhanced the quality of the CNS scientific program through the presentation of her research.
Besides the CNS, many other national organizations have utilized Dr. Schor’s vision and leadership skills. Dr. Schor is currently a Director of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. She has also served as President of the Professors of Child Neurology, a member of the Society for Pediatric Research and American Pediatric Society Councils, Secretary of the American Neurological Association, a member of the Scientific Program Committee of the American Academy of Neurology and the Executive Committee of AMSPDC. She has served on many NIH Study Sections and CCSG Strategy Groups. Dr. Schor has served as a reviewer for the Rosenthal and E. Mead Johnson Awards, chaired the E. Mead Johnson Award Selection Committee, and has been a member of the Steering and Selection Committees of the Pediatric Scientist Development Program for over a decade. She has been the speaker for many invited professorships across the United States.
In her laboratory, Dr. Schor has mentored over 80 students and trainees at all levels. Most of them are her co-authors on her 130 peer-reviewed papers. In 2005, she received the Distinguished Neurology Teacher Award of the American Neurological Association, and in 2017, she was named a Master Mentor of the National Research Mentoring Network consortium.
Dr. Schor’s most meaningful professional relationships are those that she has formed with her students. She enjoys witnessing the intellectual, academic, and personal growth of her trainees and is thrilled when the distinction between mentor and mentee becomes blurred, as information and ideas flow equally in both directions.
Dr. Schor’s “extramural” passions are playing and composing music and writing poetry. In Pittsburgh, she performed frequently as a member of the klezmer band, “The Hot Matzohs,” and was President of the Y Music Society solo concert series. She studied Shenker and atonal analysis with Allan Forte, piano with Milton Kraus, and orchestral conducting at the Mannes Conservatory in Manhattan. She is a prolific contributor of poetry to the journal Neurology, and those who completed their Child Neurology residencies under her leadership have each received a personalized and framed example of her doggerel.
Dr. Schor and her husband, Robert (a vestibular neurophysiologist), are the proud parents of Asher (formerly known as Devra), a public interest lawyer, and twins Jonathan and Stanford, MD-PhD students at, respectively, UCSF and Stanford Schools of Medicine.
Physician, scientist, leader, poet, pianist, and humanitarian, Dr. Nina Schor is this year’s recipient of the Hower Award.